How to be a Christian hockey player

How to be a Christian hockey player

By Jay Medenwaldt
Published 4/7/2017

The purpose of this article is to give practical, concrete advice on how to act like a Christian as a hockey player. The advice applies to people at all levels of play, from mites to professionals, to those playing recreationally and those playing competitively. Some of this advice comes from my own mistakes prior to becoming a Christian and some comes from my perspective as a committed Christian reflecting back on my past.

The most important thing to remember, at all times, is that you are a Christian and your purpose for doing everything is to bring glory to God. Being a Christian applies on the way to the rink, in the locker room, on the ice, on the bench, in the penalty box, at practice or other training, on the way home from the rink, when hanging out with teammates, and all other times. If you think of something I don’t mention below, your guiding principle should be to honor God (and please let me know so I can add it).

Let’s be honest, hockey players have a tendency to be crude and often pride themselves on being scumbags. The apostle Paul says Christians are the scum of the earth (1 Cor 4:13), but I don’t think that’s what he meant. Even among other athletes, hockey players have a reputation for being the sickest. Hockey players have a unique and esoteric subculture, filled with an overwhelming abundance of sexual references, alcohol, and movie quotes. On the other hand, God and virtue are almost completely absent from the scene or worse, they are ridiculed. It can be difficult to be a Christian hockey player without compromising your faith (James 1:27), but it can be done.

ON THE ICE

Perhaps the most difficult thing about being a Christian hockey player is remembering your eternal identity during the game. Once the puck drops, it’s easy to become absorbed in the moment and just focus on winning, but Christians must stay focused glorifying God. Having a plan on how to do this is helpful so you don’t have to constantly think about it during the game. Ultimately, you want to have a good attitude and have fun, play safely and fairly, and give your best effort.

ATTITUDE & DEMEANOR

Hockey is fun, even when it’s competitive. Enjoy it. Smile. Don’t be afraid to laugh and joke on the bench or between plays. Talk to and befriend the opposing players and the referees. They are people, too. In fact, some of them might even be devout Christians who have more in common with you than any of your own teammates. If you’re not the type to make small talk, at least be kind and respectful when others engage you. Don’t trash talk or threaten people, even if they started it. If you hurt someone, accidentally or intentionally, apologize and see if they’re ok, even if it was a legal play.

Smile at and engage fans (warm-ups, between periods, after the game, etc,), even if the fans are just the players’ family and friends. Don’t be so wrapped up in the game that you are no longer personable. Be encouraging of everyone, your own teammates, the refs, and the other players. Tell them good job or good try. Congratulate them on their successes. Don’t be critical of every bad play or mistake. Nobody needs your help to tell them they messed up. Teach and give tips, but do so without being mean or rude.

You don’t always have to be smiling and joking, but you should always have a positive attitude while you’re playing. If your team is down by a goal with a minute left, you should still be having fun and playing with a positive attitude. If you get cross-checked in the back of the head, forget about it and move on. Don’t retaliate or “take his number for later.” Instead, turn the other cheek. If the ref makes a terrible call, don’t complain, criticize, or curse at him or her for it. Just let it go or ask the referee about it calmly and respectfully. When you’re on the bench or in the locker room, don’t complain to your teammates about the refs or how “cheap” the other players are. In the long run of life, and even more so from an eternal perspective, none of these things matter. What matters is giving your teammates, the players on the other team, the refs, and the fans a positive impression of God through the way you conduct yourself.

SAFETY

Hockey is a physical sport, which often leads to it being a violent sport, too. You don’t want to get hurt unnecessarily nor do you want anyone else to get hurt. You don’t have to agree with me on where to draw the line regarding what is acceptable and what is not, but you should at least be considering safety and whether your actions are acceptable to God. Such actions to think about in particular are checking, fighting, playing style, and equipment.

CHECKING

The purpose of checking in hockey is to gain possession of the puck and to put pressure on the other team. It should not be used as a tool to hurt others or inflict pain on another player so they cannot play their best. What this means is that you should not be checking people unnecessarily hard or when they’re in awkward positions. It is better to let someone score than to risk hurting them.

PLAYING STYLE

On a similar note, have a safe playing style. Don’t put yourself in a compromising position where you might get hurt or hurt someone else on accident. For instance, if you’re playing in a rec league, you don’t need to be diving at people or sliding to block shots. In a competitive league, you can do these things, but you should do them as safely as possible. Don’t dive head first to block a shot (which I’ve done before) or slide at a person’s feet to block a pass. Look out for other people when you’re shooting or clearing the puck. Once again, consider the league you’re in. If you’re playing in a rec league (below midgets and adult leagues, even tournaments), there’s no reason to try to blast a slapshot through a crowd of people. Take a wrist shot or do something else with the puck. Scoring a goal is not worth breaking or even bruising an ankle or other body part. On the flip side, there’s no reason you need to be blocking slapshots unless you’re playing at a very high competitive level. Get out of the way and let the goalie do their job.

While considering everyone’s safety, you should play hard. Don’t be lazy. Give it your all. Your teammates will enjoy playing with you more and you’ll get a better work out so that you can honor God with your body, too (1 Cor 6:19). At the same time, don’t be a puck hog or stay out on the ice too long. You can skate hard and still pass the puck. You also don’t need to take long shifts. Stay out only as long as others do, even if you’re in better shape, unless others encourage you to take longer shifts, which is sometimes the case in adult leagues.

FAIRNESS

You should also play within the rules, for safety and for fairness. When I was playing juniors, my coach encouraged us to take cheap shots at players. Nothing serious, but just enough to cause someone else a bit of pain and perhaps provoke them into retaliating. For instance, we were taught to slash other players in the calf if the ref wasn’t looking. Not hard, but not soft either. We were encouraged to check people as hard as possible and inflict as much pain on the other team as we could. I wasn’t a Christian then and so I did it. I didn’t even notice I did it because it had become a habit, but when friends would watch me play, they would notice and ask why I did it. As Christians, we should not do these things. It doesn’t show people I love God or others. Accidents will happen, but don’t do these things on purpose, even if you’re mad or trying to stop someone from scoring.

FIGHTING

Outside of boxing and martial arts, hockey is the most accepting sport of fighting. However, I do not think Christians should ever fight in hockey, even if their league allows it. There are a few reasons why a hockey player might fight. They may want to get even with someone (for yourself or a teammate), try to change the momentum of a game, protect themselves, or try to impress a scout (usually in a tryout). None of these reasons justify fighting, not even self-defense, and I will explain why.

Fighting involves harming someone else. If you are not trying to hurt the other person, you cannot accomplish the purposes listed above. You can’t get even with someone, impress a coach, or change the momentum of a game by getting beat up. If you win, that means you’ve successfully beat up another person. How can you justify this with Scripture?

As far as self-defense goes, you can and should protect yourself, but you will almost never have to throw punches at a person to do this. I’ve been jumped on the ice plenty of times and seen it happen many more. Every time I’ve “turtled” (duck and cover) or seen someone else do it, it’s worked. The instigator either stopped or the refs were able to stop it before anyone was injured. Sure, it’s embarrassing and a blow to your pride, but it’s the safer and smarter option since the other player will probably end up with a 5-minute major and you likely won’t get any penalty. Besides, there’s no place for pride in a Christian’s life anyway (James 4:6). On the other hand, when I’ve seen someone attack another player out of rage, they almost always win because they usually start in a favorable position and then don’t stop throwing punches after they’ve won, inflicting sometimes serious injuries on the person.

As a last resort, if you must protect yourself or another player who is getting attacked, you can do so without throwing punches and/or trying to harm the other player. You can do this by tying up the person who you are squared off with. Grab their jersey right above their elbows and they won’t be able to punch you. They’ll tire themselves out trying throw punches and the fight can just whimper out. You may even be able to control the other person and push them against the boards or onto the ice to end it quicker.

EQUIPMENT

The other thing to consider regarding safety is equipment, especially facemasks. Your body is not your own. It belongs to God and your also your spouse if you have one (1 Cor 6:19. 1 Cor 7:4). Plus medical bills can be expensive, so spending money on an unnecessary medical bills is not being a good steward of your money either. So if you are able to, wear a facemask. Sticks, pucks, shoulders, and elbows come up fairly often. It’s not worth getting hit in the face just so you “can see better.”

If you can’t wear a facemask, which is the case for some pro leagues and maybe some adult leagues, wear a half visor if possible, preferably one of the bigger ones and not the tiny little ones that hardly do anything. Either way, if you don’t have a full mask, you should wear a mouth guard. The other thing to consider is quality of your equipment, especially for you older players who like to wear old-school equipment that won’t actually do much to protect you if you get hit.

TALK

Hockey players are not known for their pure speech. It can be difficult to listen to the conversations others have or the things they find funny. For newer or less committed Christians, it may be tempting to join in on improper jokes and conversations. At the very least, Christians should not join in on vulgar conversations or laugh at inappropriate jokes. You do not have to stop everyone else from doing these things, but you should not participate in them. When you hear them, use it as an opportunity to say a prayer for everyone involved.

If you feel obligated to do more, you have to use tact to be effective. Don’t try to call out or embarrass anyone. You might consider privately telling people that a certain conversation they had or joke they told bothered you and tell them why. You don’t need to force them to stop, but letting them know how you feel about things might be enough. If not, you can further explain why it’s an issue, especially if the talk is harmful such as is the case with racist and sexist talk, which promote discrimination and a rape culture. Unfortunately, both of these are fairly common in hockey because it is a sport played by mostly white males. I think Christians have an obligation to try to put a stop to racist and sexist statements or jokes, but at the same time, I understand if someone cannot bring themselves to confront their friends on these issues. If that’s the case, I recommend reading How to win friends and Influence People, Tactics, or some other resources on how to persuade people in more non-confrontational ways.

The other thing to consider is your own speech. Are you constantly complaining and cursing or do you speak to honor God? It’s easy and tempting to complain about your coach, your playing time, the hotel you’re staying in, how sick you are of pizza, the refs, the other team, or anything else. These complaints don’t honor God. Either try to fix the problem or let it go. Additionally, there is no reason to swear constantly. I do not think swearing is always wrong, but hockey players, including the Christians, have a tendency to swear constantly. It’s not necessary. I was the worst offender throughout juniors and part of college, and when I became a Christian in college, I stopped swearing. Guess what? Nobody cared. If you’re around another group of players long enough, they may notice you don’t swear, gossip, complain, or talk badly about people, but that’s a good thing. If and when they ask you why, it will be an opportunity to point people towards Jesus.

Another form of speech to consider, which applies more to people at higher levels, is what you say for your team media guide or during interviews. For one, be honest. A lot of guys think it’s funny to make up odd stuff or insert sexual innuendos into their bios for the team media guide. Just be honest. If you want to be funny, ask the person in charge if you can put your favorite joke in there rather than your favorite movie, make a strange face for your bio picture, or find another way to be funny without lying. If you’re doing an interview, follow the same guidelines above about complaining and building people up. Speak about people with respect, as if they a friend who is with you.

OFF ICE

            As you move up through the higher ranks of hockey, you start to spend more and more of your time with your teammates. You are with them on buses and planes and in hotels and airports. Your teammates become your friends, the people you spend most or all of your social time with. Most the time this will not cause conflict with you as a Christian, but there are times when it probably will.

Initiations are still common practice in hockey. Some are fun and harmless, others are degrading, dehumanizing, and dangerous. Don’t participate in anything that causes you to sin. It may be difficult to abstain from these activities, especially as a rookie, but remember your main identity is in Christ, not as a member of any particular hockey team. If you feel like you are being forced to participate in something, talk to one of the more reasonable veterans on the team privately and share your moral convictions with them. Offer to participate in ways that are not sinful. If this isn’t effective, escalate the situation as high as necessary. Go to the coaches, then the GM or president, then the owner if you can. If none of this works, ask for a trade or appeal to the league leadership. If the initiation activities are illegal, notify the police. I’ve been there and I’ve done things I regret. I know the pressures of gaining favor with your teammates and desiring play time, but it’s not worth your soul. Jesus told us 2,000 years ago that we would be hated because of Him (Mark 13:13).

Whether it’s part of an initiation or any other time, you should not be actively participating in sin. The most common among hockey players are drunkenness and promiscuity. These are both condemned in Scripture unequivocally, so don’t do them. Remember, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine. Having alcohol is ok if you’re of legal age, but getting drunk is not. Underage drinking is not acceptable as Christians are called to obey the laws (Romans 13:1 & 1 Peter 2:1). If your buddies are going out to get drunk, be the designated driver. If you find it easy to be promiscuous, don’t. Treat members of the opposite sex with respect and dignity, which includes not referring to them as “puck bunnies,” “puck sluts,” or any other derogatory term, even around your teammates.

And just for the record, it is possible to have a respectable relationship in juniors. My and I both met are wives while playing juniors.

SERVING

            As a Christian, you should be seeking opportunities to serve others. If you want to make a positive impact on people and how they view your savior, service is one of the absolute best ways to do it. The simplest way to serve is by picking up pucks after practice or after warm-ups, even when it’s not your turn. Do it every time, unless you have a legitimate reason not to, which should be relatively rare. You can also serve by helping out your team equipment manager if you have on. Learn to sharpen skates (a skill which will be quite useful through your playing years) and help load the bus when you go on road trips. Do all of this willingly and joyfully, not begrudgingly. You will build a tremendous amount of respect from people by doing these simple things.

You can also serve by being a referee or coach. Refs get paid, but not a lot, especially if doing lower level games. It’s a good way to give back either way and will actually help you learn the game better too. You can also do community service on your own or with your team. Organize opportunities to do community service with your team or participate in every opportunity you are given.

EVANGELISM

            People should know you are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean you need to share the gospel intrusively. How you share the message is just as important in our culture as the message itself. Doing the things listed above will probably make people assume you are a Christian, but there are other things you can do to let people know so that your actions bring honor to God rather than yourself. Here are some subtle things you can do to let people know you are a Christian and help you share the gospel.

Read. When you are on road trips with your teammates, don’t just put headphones on and zone out in a movie. Use that time to learn about God. Read the Bible or other Christian books. People will see it and ask questions. Apologetics books are especially good for this because most people have no framework for thinking about faith as being rational. When someone asks you what you’re reading and you say “a book about the rational evidence for Christianity” (or something similar), they will almost always ask further questions out of curiousity. This is a chance for you to answer their questions (1 Peter 3:15) or study the question with them to find and answer. You can also watch Christian movies and if you have a splitter for your headphones, others may want to watch with you just out of boredom. I am writing this on Apr 7, 2017, which is the same day The Case for Christ movie comes out in theaters. That will be a great one to watch with unbelievers when it comes out on DVD (go see it in theaters, too). The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, God’s not Dead (1 and 2), and Do you Believe are particularly good movies to watch with non-Christians.

Another simple thing you can do is put a Bible verse on the handle of your hockey stick. Choose a verse that is helpful to you in some way. People will see it and know your believe and maybe ask questions. When people ask about what you did since they’ve last seen you, don’t be ashamed to mention your religious activities. Tell them you went to church, studied the Bible, went to a small group, or any other activities related to faith. Don’t be ashamed (Luke 9:26).

MAINTAINING YOUR FAITH

The hockey world can be a spiritually dead place that is very challenging so you will have to be intentional about maintaining and growing your faith while in the hockey world. You can do this in a variety of ways. Find other believers to spend time with. This may be teammates, parents, housing parents, coaches, small group members, people at church, etc. You need to be around other committed Christians regularly. Find an HMI or FCA chapel program in your area or a good small group through a church. Attend church regularly. If you’re traveling often, watch church services online from your home church (in the city you live in) and/or try to attend church services while on road trips. Make it a priority and you can do it. Make sure you are also studying the Bible and apologetics. Don’t just read the Bible, study it. Learn apologetics because your faith will be challenged and mocked. You want to have answer when this happens or at least know enough apologetics to be confident that there is an answer, even if you don’t know it.


Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.